Sociology of Low Expectations: Recalibration as Innovation Work in Biomedicine

John Grant Gardner, Gabrielle Samuel, Clare Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social scientists have drawn attention to the role of hype and optimistic visions of the future in providing momentum to biomedical innovation projects by encouraging innovation alliances. In this article, we show how less optimistic, uncertain, and modest visions of the future can also provide innovation projects with momentum. Scholars have highlighted the need for clinicians to carefully manage the expectations of their prospective patients. Using the example of a pioneering clinical team providing deep brain stimulation to children and young people with movement disorders, we show how clinicians confront this requirement by drawing on their professional knowledge and clinical expertise to construct visions of the future with their prospective patients; visions which are personalized, modest, and tainted with uncertainty. We refer to this vision-constructing work as recalibration, and we argue that recalibration enables clinicians to manage the tension between the highly optimistic and hyped visions of the future that surround novel biomedical interventions, and the exigencies of delivering those interventions in a clinical setting. Drawing on work from science and technology studies, we suggest that recalibration enrolls patients in an innovation alliance by creating a shared understanding of how the “effectiveness” of an innovation shall be judged.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)998-1021
JournalScience, Technology and Human Values
Issue number6
Early online date11 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • expertese
  • futures
  • translational medicine
  • neurotechnology

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